Youngmans Restaurant features as stop five in the Edible Leeds trail. Librarian Helen Skilbeck takes a closer look at the history of the restaurant and the family behind the name.
Gerald Priestland famously called Leeds “the intellectual capital of fish and chips” – and he had a point, with the town’s love of the dish developing so rapidly after the arrival of the first fish and chip shop around 1881 that there were said to be around 800 such shops across the city by 1909. Probably the most well-known in the city centre was Youngmans, named for proprietor Henry Robert Youngman.
Youngman was born in London in 1861 and lived next to a fish shop. Originally working in the woodwork trade as a cabinet maker, he moved to Leeds when he was 21. He set up his first fish shop in Hunslet in 1885. The 1891 census shows him to be living at 63 Whitehouse Street in Hunslet, along with his wife Elizabeth and children Herbert, Walter, Frank, Ruth and Henry. His occupation is listed as Fish and Potato Fryer and Dealer with his wife listed as his assistant.
Finding success in Hunslet, Youngman moved to increasingly larger premises and in 1914 opened his first restaurant on Lower Headrow providing fish and chips with tea, bread and butter. With seating for 150 patrons, Youngman’s was described by one American visitor as “the most up-to date and efficient of its kind.”
The widening of the Headrow saw the restaurant move again to New Briggate in 1928. This advertisement boasts that there is now seating ‘for yourself and 299 others’. It goes on to say ‘a visit to Youngmans will convince you of the delightful furnishings, of the service, speed and courtesy of the staff, and of the hundred and one little details, so well thought out, which go to make a really pleasurable repast’. The advertisement also give patrons the option to use their ‘special wrapping’ for those wanting to take their food home with them.
Henry Robert Youngman died on 6 April 1930 on his 65th birthday and was buried in Harehills Cemetery.
His sons Walter and Henry continued to run the Leeds restaurant as well as a Wholesale Fish Merchants at Billingsgate, Hull but in 1932 this partnership was formally dissolved. Walter continued with the Hull business and Henry with Youngmans restaurant in Leeds. Henry would go on to become heavily involved in the National Federation of Fish Friers and later would become its President 1936-1943. Henry died in 1946 at the age of 56 but the business continued to thrive. Later moving to premises on Queen Victoria Street off Briggate, Henry’s only child, Sylvia and her husband William Bettison ran Youngmans until it closed in 1989.